Blame the interminable cold, but I haven't been walking in Prospect Park for ages. (Hey, even my crocuses are lagging this year.) With more proof just in that parks ease brain fatigue, I bestirred myself. There weren't a lot of takers for the strong sun and stiff chilly breeze, but these boys of would-be summer gave it their best.
Nothing is greening up yet; the park seemed bleached and bare in spots. The recent loss of hundreds of trees has made a palpable difference in the feel of things: more sky, less sense of remove from the surrounding city.
However, I did find a very cool decommissioned wasp nest, just lying at my feet. Its marvelously engineered pods were all vacant. I was grateful to be carrying an empty tote sack—one looks a bit absurd carrying a wasp nest down Prospect Park West—and bagged it for my cabinet of curiosities. The Daughter found it fascinating but disgusting, and said that if a wasp roused itself from within and invaded the house, "we will kill you." (For even more disturbing Kunstkammer specimens, go here...if you dare.)
No, I'd never been to the Conservatory Garden in Central Park in my lifetime as a New Yorker. The enormous gates, donated by the Vanderbilts, lured us into this guest park late one afternoon last weekend. These frolicksome maidens didn't seem to feel the chill.
According to the park's official site, "The northern, French-style garden showcases parterres of germander and spectacular seasonal displays of spring tulips, and Korean chrysanthemums in autumn, all within an ellipse of Japanese holly. In the center is the charming 'Three Dancing Maidens' fountain by German sculptor, Walter Schott, which once stood at the home of Samuel Untermyer's estate, Greystone, in the Bronx."
The garden has what they call great "bones"...design that stands its ground in any season, with or without flounces of flowers.
The trees in this allee are pink and white crabapples; they framed a stately Italianate rectangle of snow crowned by a skeletal pergola.
In spring, apparently, it all explodes in bloom. (See the park's aerial shot, below.) On this February day, aside from one dog-walker, we had it all to ourselves.
Over on the Long Meadow, the parents and kids of Park Slope and environs bundled up and set forth in search of snowy fun. Everyone sort of kidded themselves that there was much more snow than there actually was. In fact, even in the frigid air, it was still muddy enough to smell the earth.
Spouse and I reminisced about bringing Daughter and her snow-saucer contraption over to the park in far deeper snow; meanwhile, across the street in the public library, said Daughter gamely endured an interview for a prestigious university.
Everyone talks about "surviving" various phases of early childhood, but by the time people are hounding your child for the umpteenth recitation of her scores, talents, grades, clubs, and "passion," the years when happiness could be bought with a snow saucer and a restorative lunch of Spaghetti-Os seem exquisitely simple. Today, we warmed up with a Thai lunch, assuring her over dumplings that it would all work out fine.
The mysterious clearings on the southern end of Prospect Park are larger and more open since Sandy, but have lost none of their air of remoteness and melancholy. Stumps are everywhere, although the park has done an amazing job at picking up the deadfall.
The world below is this guy's pantry.
When I entered the park by the Peristyle, I looked down and found this amputated rose. Then the petals later...but I couldn't figure out what it meant (unless perhaps St. Therese was "friending" and "poking" me like the overage teenager that she is). I left the rose on a bench, to mystify someone else on a cloudy afternoon.
This time of year, just before Thanksgiving, I love the last bits of gold that cling to the dark foresty bits. But the foliage, and the forest, got walloped in the home stretch by a double shot of Sandy and snow, making "Caution" tape a common sight this November fluttering on piles of fallen branches.
A walk along Wellhouse Drive revealed plenty of gold, and even green, still spangling the woods on Lookout Hill.
But this ginkgo, which is a personal friend of mine, stood broken and battered. The truck underneath appeared to have just dragged the electric boat Independence out of the lake; the poor boat was covered with bird poo and feathers, and its future is uncertain.
Did you know that the fall colors have been in the leaves all along, just waiting for the green to fade away and reveal them? I hope I grow old like a leaf.
...we will follow up Hurricane Sandy with lots of heavy, wet snow. Yes, it's purty alright; this picture was snapped by Peggy Knipp, an indomitable old friend, who (when not planning celebrities' honeymoons) can be found zooming around hard-hit areas with trunkloads of donations...and, often, scooping up my child for a lift to school, because she has never met anything she can't rescue. Somehow, amid all this, she managed to get a beauty shot of Prospect Park under its fleeting mantle of snow. It's forecast to be sunny and in the 60s by Sunday...if there are any trees left by then, I think we'd better all go out and hug them.
Got a sneak peak at the new Lakeside project in Prospect Park...amazing things are happening.
We took a tour with Christian Zimmerman, the Park's vice president for design and construction, through the "What's Out There Weekend" program of a group called The Cultural Landscape Foundation. Few landscapes are as intensely cultural as Prospect Park's, and as Zimmerman led us through the construction fence, I realized that he is as conversant with Messrs. Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the park's original mid-19th-century designers, as a steward of Monticello would be with Thomas Jefferson.
The park's founding fathers, especially Olmsted, must have been giving him an earful...because the area we trod yesterday was an egregious desecration of Olmsted's utopian rural vision. Robert Moses, the "Master Builder," literally paved paradise and put up a parking lot...and a pug-ugly early-1960s skating rink.
The site of this desecration was the "Concert Grove," the most formal part of the original park design--an ampitheatre-shaped swath off the East Drive whose shoreline faced a man-made "Music Island," once a site for genteel summer concerts. (More about this delightful folly here.) The first phase of the park's multi-zillion-dollar Lakeside Project has been to demolish the ratty old rink, reclaim the original shoreline, and recreate Music Island, this time as a wildlife habitat. The job is virtually done, and the results are stunning.
Above, a shot of the Concert Grove back in the late 1800s; the statue of Abraham Lincoln still stands there, but thanks to Mr. Moses, Mr. Lincoln spent decades gazing at the Zamboni shed. Here is almost the exact spot today. Our tour group stands above the same wall in the earlier photo; it was buried in sludge for the rink project and, when excavated, needed only some pointing to gird the lake once again. (Lincoln is just out of sight to our left.)
AND NOW...VICTORIAN PUBLIC DECOR PORN!
The massive dig to restore the shoreline revealed no dead mobsters or even guns, said Zimmerman, but it did turn up this fanciful water fountain (circled in red). Yes, the rink-builders just tossed it into the mud. The park folks hope a donor will come forward to restore this treasure, although probably not as a working drinking fountain due to ADA regulations for wheelchair accessibility.
These spectacular bronze urns, which disappeared during the park's decades of hard times, were meticulously replicated from photographs.
The urns sit atop the original stone bases, whose weathered carving is like a glorious 3-D picture book of Victorian ornamentation...
and lush music-themed assemblages, some carved with composers' names.
The closest thing to Olmsted's heart, however, would have to be the restoration of the lake's "natural" contours and the artful use of native plantings. He was a firm believer that the common folk needed to rest their eyes on nature's beauty as a restorative for society's ills.
An adolescent swan and a red-eared turtle already seem to approve. Tomorrow, in Part II of the sneak peak at Lakeside, we'll go inside something that Vaux and Olmsted could never have imagined.
In the playground, a lanky young person in striped socks and ponytail swung high and low through the downpour—whether with careless cheer or grim determination, I couldn't tell.
The rain beat down the first ranks of the color guard, although it still felt like summer.
Rainy day people always seem to know when it's time to call
Rainy day people don't talk, they just listen till they've heard it all
Rainy day lovers don't lie when they tell 'ya they've been down like you
Rainy day people don't mind if you're cryin' a tear or two.